The Atlantic Council remembers Brent Scowcroft

Lieutenant General (Ret.) Brent Scowcroft, chairman emeritus of the Atlantic Council, president of the Scowcroft Group, and a former national security advisor to the President of the United States, passed away on August 6, 2020, at the age of ninety-five.

Scowcroft served in the United States Air Force for twenty-nine years, retiring with the rank of Lieutenant General before becoming the national security advisor for US President Gerald Ford in 1975. Scowcroft would serve in the same role for US President George H.W. Bush, becoming the only person to serve two different US presidents as national security advisor.

Scowcroft has served as a chairman of the Atlantic Council, chairman of the Council’s International Advisory Board, and as a board director for more than three decades. In 2012, the Atlantic Council launched the Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security, now known as the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security. The Center honors Scowcroft’s legacy of service and embodies his ethos of nonpartisan commitment to the cause of security, support for US leadership in cooperation with allies and partners, and dedication to the mentorship of the next generation of leaders.

The Atlantic Council community reacts to the passing of Brent Scowcroft and reflects on his legacy as a statesman, strategist, and public servant.

Frederick Kempe, president and CEO of the Atlantic Council:

“With Brent Scowcroft’s passing, the United States has lost one of the most remarkable figures in our country’s foreign policy history. Seldom has the world seen a man of such historic accomplishment and remarkable modesty. He helped win the Cold War, he defined the role of national security advisor, and he mentored legions of principled individuals who continue to serve.

“His greatest characteristic was the one he most valued in leaders: judgment. Add to that huge doses of integrity, wisdom, decency, intellectual rigor, and tireless commitment. He will be remembered alongside Henry Kissinger, age ninety-seven, and Zbigniew Brzezinski, who passed away in 2017 at age eighty-nine, as one of the three strategic giants of their times.   

“The Atlantic Council would not exist today were it not for his leadership as a board member, as chairman, as International Advisory Board chairman, and finally as chairman emeritus. Whatever his position, his role was outsized on the institution, its principles, and its commitment to constructive US engagement globally alongside friends and allies. We are proud to have launched the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security in 2012 in his name and dedicated to his enduring values and virtues.

“Thank you, General Scowcroft, for the life that you have led and for the inspiration you have left. We pledge to serve your lasting legacy. Our hearts go out to your family, your friends and the many in the United States, Europe and across the world who have worked with you over the years to create a better world. We all owe you so much.”  

Damon Wilson, executive vice president of the Atlantic Council:

“General Scowcroft helped write a chapter of history in which peace and freedom prevailed over war and oppression. He helped the United States win the Cold War with a gracious soft landing, leading to unification of a democratic Germany and the welcoming of Central and Eastern Europe into the free world.

“It was in the face of aggression, Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait, that General Scowcroft rallied the administration and then the world to a position of resolve, reversing the occupation, and paving the way for what he believed could be a new world order. It was only over dinner in the Council board room one evening, as General Scowcroft recounted those days, did I appreciate how grand his strategy was. He combined audacity of vision and a brilliant strategic mind with prudence, integrity, and modesty.

“The Atlantic Council simply would not exist without General Scowcroft. It is one of the honors of my life that I had the opportunity as the then-director of the Council’s International Security Program to help lead a campaign to transform the program into the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security. We will carry the responsibility to honor him through our work, each and every day.

“In these troubled times, the Council family channels his ethos of trying to provide a North Star for America’s role in the world and for those who would steer the nation’s future. His love of country, moral compass, private counsel, and dedication to mentoring the next generation guide us today.”

General James L. Jones, executive chairman emeritus of the Atlantic Council, former commandant of the US Marine Corps, former Supreme Allied Commander, Europe, and former national security advisor to President Obama:

“With the passing of General Brent Scowcroft, the world has lost a great statesman and military leader who has left his indelible contribution on the important pages of both the 20th and 21st centuries. At the same time, his loss reminds us that decency and respect have a valid place in the execution of diplomacy regardless of the complexity of the problems that face us. To me he was a friend, a mentor, and in the small ranks of former National Security Advisors, the first and best among equals.”

Secretary Charles T. Hagel, Former US Secretary of Defense and former US Senator (R-NE). Former Chairman of the Atlantic Council and member of the Atlantic Council’s International Advisory Board:

“Brent Scowcroft was the complete human being…humble, thoughtful, courageous, and wise. Always put others first. I don’t know another leader who was so highly respected and admired…and liked…than Brent Scowcroft  He helped shape a post-WWII world like few others. His understanding of people and events and sense of the future made his contributions to our country and world affairs as important as any 20th Century statesman. And he was above all a statesman’s statesman. He will be missed.”

Stephen J. Hadley, executive vice chair of the Atlantic Council board of directors, a principal of Rice, Hadley, Gates & Manuel LLC, and former US National Security Advisor:

 “It fell to Brent Scowcroft to define the role of national security advisor, and he did it living the role under President Ford, writing, I think, the definitive statement of what a national security advisor should do in the Tower Commission Report—and then just to put the line under it, serving again under Bush 41. That model is premised that the national security advisor must serve the president, be an honest broker, and have a low profile and act offstage. Brent not only defined the role, he then lived it. 

“With the passing of Brent Scowcroft, the world has lost an incredible and influential legend. On behalf of all of those who followed you, who served in the role and tried to follow your model, thank you for your service. Thank you for showing us a way, and thank you for being the extraordinary person that you were.” 

“Rarely have the characteristics of the office better matched the character of the man. Loyalty, sense of service, treating all people with respect, and then, finally, self-effacing—which really means having his ego in control, and making it clear that it’s always about the mission and the country and never about him. We remember and honor this man, and the legacy he leaves us.”

Virginia A. Mulberger, vice chair, Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security:

“The world lost a quiet but hugely impactful proponent of a peaceful world order through ethical, American leadership supported by allies and institutions of common good. Our country lost one of its finest, most humble, and most strategic leaders. I lost a mentor, boss, colleague, and one of my dearest friends of thirty-seven years. None of us were ready, but after over seventy years of service to others, he was. Rest well, my friend.”

Ambassador Paula J. Dobriansky, Former Under Secretary of State for Global Affairs; senior fellow, Harvard University Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs; vice chair, Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security:

“General Brent Scowcroft was an extraordinary man with a nonpareil public service record.  He served twice as National Security Advisor for President Ford and President George H.W. Bush.  He ran the NSC with a deft hand, ensuring that the president got the best possible advice. Indeed, he has been properly viewed as the model NSC Advisor, to be emulated by his successors. 

“Among his many accomplishments, his steering of US foreign policy at the end of the Cold War, in ways that brought freedom to hundreds of millions of people in the former Soviet Union and Central and Eastern Europe, fostered an enduring architecture for peace and stability.  

“He was a leader, scholar, and a terrific human being. On a personal level, I valued his foreign policy insights and career advice. No matter what he was doing, his door was always open to the next generation.  

“General Brent Scowcroft, you will be sorely missed! As vice chair of the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security, I know that the Atlantic Council will be forever indebted to you for principled leadership.”

Lieutenant General James Clapper, former Director of National Intelligence and Atlantic Council International Advisory Board member:

“I consider myself one of Brent’s many, many mentees.  Just to talk with him was a mentoring session.  I will always remember the honor for me to present him with the National Intelligence Distinguished Public Service Award as a small token of the esteem with which he was widely held by so many members of the Intelligence Community. He was a gentle man, a brilliant intellect, who was self-effacing and humble. He has had huge impact on this country, and leaves a great legacy with those he tutored by his living example. The nation has lost an icon.”

Dr. Alexander V. Mirtchev, vice-chair of the Atlantic Council, board director, member of the Executive and Strategy Committees, and member of the Advisory Council of the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security:

“Few leaders truly live up to the title “great statesman.” Brent Scowcroft was one of them. He guided US national security policy through some of America’s most challenging and defining times and helped propel its rise.

“Lieutenant General Brent Scowcroft was national security advisor to the President of the United States, President of the Scowcroft Group, and Chairman emeritus of the Atlantic Council, among other positions. As we all know, he was not just a soldier, scholar, and strategist of the highest order, but also a wonderful human being, mentor, and a friend. And all this with his characteristic positive attitude, wit, and wisdom.

“It is an honor to have known and worked with him. As a member of the Advisory Council for the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council, we will endeavor to ensure that his principled, pragmatic, and imaginative approach to international relations and national security lives on.”

Barry Pavel, senior vice president, Arnold Kanter chair, and director of the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security:

“The country and the world have lost an historic force for stability and security, a legendary strategist who ended the decades-long Cold War without a shot. His legacy is deep and wide-ranging, and includes training generations of national security strategists and establishing the model National Security Council decision-making process that successors have sought to emulate. 

“But perhaps his most important and long-lasting impact is how he comported himself, how he always exhibited humility and nonpartisanship. As the Director of the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council, we will continue to strive to honor General Scowcroft’s legacy of service every day by working to develop sustainable, nonpartisan strategies to address the most important security challenges facing the United States and the world.” 

Matthew Kroenig, deputy director for strategy at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security:

“General Brent Scowcroft will always be known as one of the great American national security strategists. He said that the concept of strategy is simple (you need to articulate your goal and a plan to achieve it), but that doing good strategy work in practice is difficult.  

“He was personally involved in setting up the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security. He said that many organizations in Washington do day-to-day news cycle and policy work, but too few take a step back, look at the big picture, and do real strategy.  

“We took that advice to heart. The Scowcroft Center seeks to honor General Scowcroft’s legacy of service every day by working to develop sustainable, nonpartisan strategies to address the most important security challenges facing the United States and the world.” 

Christopher Skaluba, director of the Scowcroft Center’s Transatlantic Security Initiative:

“Like the death of Congressman John Lewis, General Scowcroft’s passing is an opportunity to celebrate a legacy of which all Americans should be proud. In an era unnerving on so many levels, remembering the best among us can help us on our quest to recover a better future. Only one question should be on the mind of any right-thinking national security professional today:  Who is the next Brent Scowcroft and where do we find her?”

Stuart E. Eizenstat, Atlantic Council board director and member of the executive committee, chief White House Domestic Policy Adviser to President Carter; US ambassador to the EU, Under Secretary of Commerce, Under Secretary of State, Deputy Secretary of the Treasury; and served on the Secretary of Defense’s Advisory Board with General Scowcroft during the Obama administration:

“General Scowcroft was a great patriot who served his country well as a general and national security adviser, but was also a wonderful, thoughtful, kind, courteous human being. He is a model of putting country before party, bipartisanship before partisan advantage. We need to draw inspiration from his life. He was a great friend of the Atlantic Council and the Scowcroft Center will be an enduring contribution to the Council, our country, and the world.”

General Charles F. Wald, former deputy commander of US European Command and President of Jones Group Middle East:

“We have lost one of the truly great American leaders. He is an example we should all try to emulate during these fractured political times. He will be truly missed, but his legacy will live on.”

Jane Holl Lute, former Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security, an Atlantic Council Board Director, and Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security Advisory Council member:

“Brent Scowcroft has been a giant in my life. More than anyone I have ever known, Brent lived his values every day—fairness, kindness, and modesty. To this list I can also add devotion to duty and to doing the right thing for the country. He led the NSC staff (on which I served) with a caring, but firm, hand. Under Brent, the NSC staff was ‘the help’—our job was to support the president as he took decisions to advance the national interest. He taught me how to think with effect to this purpose. And these were tumultuous times: the collapse of the Soviet Union, the breakup and war in Yugoslavia, the unfolding tragedy in Somalia, and so many others.

“Yes, he was my boss, but he was also my mentor, role model, and my friend. He urged me to go to the United Nations when I left the NSC staff because he believed so deeply and pragmatically in the value of that institution. Over three decades he always made himself available to offer ideas when I had none and direction when I felt lost. The United States has lost a national treasure. May his memory be for a blessing.”

Odeh Aburdene, president of OAI Advisors, Atlantic Council board director, and Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security Advisory Council member:

“The essence of Brent Scowcroft’s leadership and philosophy was the importance of the security of the American people and its allies through strength and careful diplomacy.

“Brent was an American icon who gave the United States immense respect and admiration. He was the architect of strategic “enlightened realism” that advanced US national interest. He believed that a requirement of a strategy is having a policy. 

“Brent’s brilliance and strategic vision resulted in creating a global coalition that freed Kuwait in 1991. I observed the respect and esteem that Brent commanded in the Middle East on a trip to the Gulf with Brent and Zbigniew Brzezinski and Ambassador Richard Murphy in 1996. 

“We met with King Abdallah of Saudi Arabia and Shiekh Zayad the president of the UAE. King Abdallah said to me in Arabic after the meeting concluded that “General Scowcroft is a sincere friend whose words are honorable.”  Sheikh Zayad showed his admiration for Brent by meeting with us on a Friday, when usually Sheikh Zayad does not meet any officials on the Muslim sabbath. 

“Zayad said that Scowcroft was “wise not to go to Baghdad in 1991, and I have the highest respect for him and trust him implicitly.” By not sending US forces to take Baghdad, Zayad said “General Scowcroft showed he understands the complexities and challenges of the region.”

“I can unequivocally say Brent Scowcroft’s legacy, principles, and wisdom will always stay with me.”

Stanley Sloan, author of Defense of the West: Transatlantic Security from Truman to Trump (Manchester University Press, 2020, now available for pre-order) and the award-winning Transatlantic traumas: Has illiberalism brought the West to the brink of collapse? (Manchester University Press 2018):

“I know that to many in my generation Brent Scowcroft set standards for professionalism and dedication that should be modeled by others. I am sorry to see him go. Recently, when the Russian International Affairs Council in an interview asked me to name the “diplomat” I most admired, here was my, perhaps unexpected, answer:

This is a great question and much more difficult to answer than I had anticipated. First, there is the problem of definitions: what is “outstanding” and who qualifies as a “diplomat.” For me, “outstanding” does not necessarily mean the brightest (many are), longest-serving, or amount of treaties negotiated. I am settling on the measure of how well they served their country, including the impression they left on the rest of the world.

“As for the definition of “diplomat,” I include not just those who worked their way up through their diplomatic or other government service but also those who represented their country effectively from some other entry point. There are some great examples of women and men around the world who have represented their countries well. My mind goes to the young lady from Sweden who has played a starring role in calling the international community’s attention to the threats to our planet, Greta Thunberg.

“However, for this purpose, I am going to stick with American candidates. In this narrower set, Michelle Obama has been an outstanding representative of the United States, both as first lady and then as the former first lady in support of humanitarian causes and representing her country well. Another outstanding representative, in my opinion, is Colin Powell. Powell served two presidents who were not that popular outside the United States and yet he retained great respect in the international community. Henry Kissinger is likely to top the list of many who would answer this question, and he certainly is likely the most brilliant of American diplomats in recent history. However, his roots in a European balance-of-power intellectual world did not always provide him the best or most useful understanding of our own political system and values. Perhaps it will be surprising to some that my choice is Brent Scowcroft, who helped President George H. W. Bush manage America’s role at the end of the Cold War. Scowcroft was smart, pragmatic, and operated from a solid base of American values. He was well-respected both in his home country and abroad. Brent Scowcroft is my “most outstanding” choice, even though there are many other candidates that might deservedly be selected by other observers.”

Barbara Slavin, director of the Future of Iran Initiative at the Atlantic Council:

“I was lucky enough to know Brent for many years and am grateful to him for his assistance on my book about the United States and Iran as well as his invaluable help to the Atlantic Council. But my favorite memory is when he agreed to do an editorial board meeting at the Washington Times in 2009, when I was assistant managing editor there. This was in pre-Uber days and Brent said he was willing to come if I would agree to drive him back to his office downtown afterwards. I eagerly agreed and so had the benefit of thirty minutes of off-record chit-chat with one of the nicest—if not the nicest—foreign policy practitioners I have ever known. Brent had policy opponents but as far as I can tell, he had no enemies in DC, a rare achievement in a time of hyper-partisanship and social media lunacy. I will miss his wisdom, his mentorship, and his total decency.”

Ajay Chhibber, nonresident senior fellow in the Atlantic Council’s South Asia Center:

“I met General Scowcroft in 2001 when I was the World Bank’s director in Turkey. I got a call from Ambassador Pearson—the then US ambassador to Turkey—that General Scowcroft was in town and wanted to meet me. I expected to have to haul myself over to the Embassy—but was told he will come to my office, which surprised me. 

“He showed up with a delegation of twenty companies who formed part of the American-Turkish Energy Association to complain about the advice the World Bank was giving the Turkish government to cancel take and pay electricity contracts worth hundreds of millions US dollars. These were very expensive contracts signed with corrupt politicians and were contributing to Turkey’s huge fiscal hole which had led to a massive financial crisis in 2001. 

“General Scowcroft explained that he had been asked by the Association (which then included companies like Enron) to lead a delegation to Turkey to help resolve the issue. He listened patiently as our lead economist explained why these contracts were not in Turkey’s interest, as most of them paid much more than the normal rate per kilowatt hour. 

“I also said that US investment should be seen as benefiting Turkey—not giving huge payoffs to foreign investors—and that any future government would eventually cancel these contracts anyway. General Scowcroft did not say very much but listened intently.

“The meeting ended inconclusively, but as they were leaving General Scowcroft came back from the elevator alone and said to me “you had the better arguments today.” That there ended the issue and I asked my lead economist to go ahead and urge the Turkish government to cancel the contracts. 

“I ran into General Scowcroft again at the Dulles airport three years later and he met me with great warmth. It showed how he could look at the bigger picture and the long term harm these corruption ridden energy contracts would do to the US image in the country and the deep understanding he had of the broader economic and political consequences. I have been a great admirer of General Scowcroft. The United States and the world have lost a great man.” 

Hans Binnendijk, distinguished fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security:

“I first worked for Brent in 1976 when he served his first term as national security advisor. He impressed me then as someone intent upon making sure that the president received balanced analysis and that all agency views were fairly represented. He had a great mind, a collegial style, and a warm personality. Those solid characteristics never wavered during the past four and a half decades. He was indeed an American hero. He will be missed.”

Ken Weisbrode, writer, historian, and former Atlantic Council staff member from 1994-2000:

“Of the many acts of service General Brent Scowcroft has done for the Atlantic Council over the years, one, in my opinion, stands out. In the 1990s the Council, with about twenty members of staff and about a dozen interns, was little more than a mom-and-pop operation. Our mom and pop were Ambassador Rozanne Ridgway and General Andrew Goodpaster. The two served as co-chairs of the board and as active participants in study groups, delegation trips abroad, and similar activities. Most of the Council’s work in fact was done by such groups, made up of board members and invited outsiders.

“In 1997 our tiny organization nearly committed suicide when a board revolt resulted in Gen. Goodpaster’s departure after more than a decade at the helm. Amb. Ridgway had already left some time before. Thus, we were without senior leadership at a critical time for the Council, financially and otherwise. Into the breach came Gen. Scowcroft. He agreed to serve as chairman until another was found, and he set about right away to recruit one. He also sent word to our members, funders, and anyone else who mattered that the Council would stay in business and continue to do the important work it had always done. Finally, he told the staff that his door was open to each and every one of us (his office was in the building next door); soon we were invited to see him so he could review our ongoing projects and ask where and how he could be helpful.

“I still remember that meeting around a tiny round table. And then watching the Council steadily recover and grow under his quiet leadership. Gen. Scowcroft saved the life of the Atlantic Council. That it mattered to him to do so at that point in his own life and career says something important about the man, his character, and his legacy.”

Jim Danoy, nonresident senior fellow in the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security:

“We all mourn the passing of the Center’s namesake Lt Gen (ret). Brent Scowcroft: a true American hero. He defined what selfless service to our nation means.”

Watch our 2012 event honoring Brent Scowcroft:

Related Experts: Frederick Kempe, Damon Wilson, James L. Jones, Jr., Stephen J. Hadley, Ambassador Paula J. Dobriansky, Alexander Mirtchev, Barry Pavel, Matthew Kroenig, Christopher Skaluba, Jane Holl Lute, Barbara Slavin, Ajay Chhibber, and Hans Binnendijk

Image: Lt. Gen. Brent Scowcroft USAF (ret.), Chairman Emeritus of the Atlantic Council Board of Directors and International Advisory Board, looks on during the annual Atlantic Council Board Dinner.